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Education: UK vs US

Abbie Jessop discusses some of the differences she has found between university in the UK and college in the US.

By Abbie Jessop 3rd Year, Liberal Arts

Abbie Jessop discusses some of the differences she has found between university in the UK and college in the US.

The big question: How does a $52,500 a year education compare with the UK £9000 a year education?

Epigram / Abbie Jessop

Writing that sentence makes me realise how fortunate I am to be receiving this education for a year. I’m in America for the first time having the opportunity to live another kind of student life for 9 months, studying at a campus university and going to ‘classes’ four out of the five weekdays. So in terms of the learning experience and teaching offered, how do the two education systems compare? Have I found the elusive ‘American Dream’?

Firstly, the US system has way more assessments - a point to be emphasized with an exclamation mark! There’s the UK Arts and Humanities student stereotype: a creature who sometimes manages to attend all their 4 hours a week of classes (but rarely if there’s a 9am in the mix), writes an occasional essay (often in an all-nighter), and sits a couple of exams at the end of the year. In the UK, the emphasis on independent study very much allows for a style of student engagement based on the culture of you ‘get out what you put in’. However, in the US, the increased contact hours, increased quantity of assessment and different modes of assessment (including the dreaded class participation grade), means that you have to ‘put in’ a lot more. All students have to study, even the English majors!

Across the Atlantic, telling people I’m a History major receives an impressed ‘Oh wow! That’s a lot of reading’. When I say I take four classes in History, I am subject to a look of horror and asked ‘Why would you do that to yourself?’. That is a question I ask myself often, when I have 100 pages of reading and two assignments in for the next day! All I can say is, no one told me that taking more than three history classes a term is madness… (safe to say, I’ve made different life choices for next term).

Epigram / Abbie Jessop

However, the amount of work is incredibly rewarding. I feel like my mind is being stretched and challenged and I’m impressing myself with the number of essays I’m writing alongside group projects, creative writing tasks and presentations. America understands Liberal Arts; I’m no longer answering the question ‘do you draw?’, instead declaring my status as a History major! Next term I’m taking classes in Theology, Theatre and English as well as History which is incredibly exciting and truly interdisciplinary; I have greater freedom to choose classes than I had before, which enables me to pick those I genuinely find most interesting.

Relationships with professors in America is my favourite difference because I feel like I know all my teachers personally to the point that I can say hello to them outside of class, and would stop and have a conversation if I saw them in the street! One of my professors even came to watch me in a student theatre show which felt so incredibly supportive. The same professor also brought in a pile of pizzas into the last class before Christmas!

The relationships formed with classmates are different too. More classes, more group projects and an emphasis on discussion with class contribution forming part of the grade you receive, creates greater opportunities to build relationships with the people in your class. However, at the same time the amount of work is not conducive to a lot of (if any) free time and therefore I can go weeks without seeing someone I’d consider to be my closest friend here outside the library. This is something I really struggled with initially, and am making a conscious effort to combat now, by suggesting grabbing lunch and going to extra curricular talks together.

Epigram / Abbie Jessop

It's the culture around enjoying education that I think Bristol can sometimes lack - whether that’s because there’s not enough contact hours to feel at grips with a subject, or I just find the classes and professors I’ve had here more inspiring, I’m not sure. Being on a campus really helps because I just stay on campus all day and fit as much in as I can. Despite this, I do think the American system can lack a work-life balance, especially as students are encouraged to do clubs and volunteering outside of studies. I’ve heard the phrase “time is money” much more. If I can share anything of Bristol University culture at Boston College, it’s the moments casually chatting in a cafe for a couple of hours with a friend that I don’t think enough students here give themselves time to enjoy in term time.

So personally, I’m finding the US system really suits me - probably in large part due to my decision to not get stressed out by the assignments. It would be very easy to get overwhelmed by the workload, reading and constant stream of assessments, but I just want to get as much out of the classes I’m taking as I can by just enjoying the study and teaching I’m being offered. Having said that, part of me is already excited for the day I can head to the pub for a casual drink with friends after a day of classes and an evening music rehearsal once again!

Featured Image: Unsplash / 85fifteen

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